Science fiction has a plethora of ideas about what happened in the past and what to expect from the future. Unfortunately, not all of those ideas are exactly plausible in reality. In Suspension of Disbelief, we’ll take a look at the best ideas from sci-fi movies, books, comics and videogames to see where (and if) they intersect with the real world.
Post-apocalyptic stories are some of the most popular in fiction. Movies like Mad Max, Snowpiercer, and The Road are so captivating and intriguing because they offer a look at how humanity might react and behave if the world was effectively ruined. But it’s strange that a genre that we’re so entertained by is, at this point, a scientific inevitability.
Almost without fail, every month sets a record high temperature and every year is hotter than the one before it. By 2100, the Earth’s average temperature could rise as much as 6°C. That may not sound like much, but it would be disastrous for life all over the globe. Species will go extinct, cities and towns will be destroyed, and millions of people will be displaced from their homes.
In order to avoid that catastrophic climate change, the United Nations has said that we need to keep the warming below 2°C. As things stand now, 2°C of warming is our best case scenario. Changing the behaviors of 7 billion people, many of whom profit off of the continued use of the very fossil fuels that have gotten us into this mess, is an overwhelmingly difficult task. But if we act now and act decisively, we can fix the mistakes we’ve made.
The fallout of climate change sounds like somebody else’s problem, someone who lives 100 years from now. The problems feel too distant, too intangible, too speculative to be treated as serious, immediate concerns. But that’s not true. Earth and the people, plants, and animals that live on it are feeling the effects of global warming right now, and it’s more than just an unusually warm winter. There are major changes happening to our climate that are already altering coastlines, killing animals, and causing billions of dollars worth of damage. Click through the gallery to see the real, tangible toll that climate change is taking on our planet.
Hailing from upstate New York, Cameron Wade is a freelance writer interested in movies, videogames, comic books and more. You can find his work at protogeektheblog.wordpress.com.
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The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. In November 2016, Arctic temperatures were roughly 20°C warmer than expected and the amount of Arctic sea ice was millions of square kilometers less than what it was at the same time in 2012, which itself was well below the expected average. The most famous image associated with the melting Arctic is of the polar bear, stranded on a small ice raft surrounded by a vast ocean. Polar bears live, hunt, and reproduce on the ice because it's where their primary food source, seals, live. As the ice disappears, the seals have a harder time finding food. As the seals die off, so too do the polar bears. But the damage being done to the Arctic doesn't just affect the wildlife that lives there. The melting ice caps are a major contributor to rising sea levels. Also, the Arctic acts as a coolant for the rest of the world by circulating cold air and water and by reflecting some of the Sun's heat back into space with its massive ice sheets. As the Arctic gets warmer, the rest of the world will feel the effects of global warming even faster.
Photo by Kerstin Langenberger, Arctic-Dreams.com
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Sea levels have risen four to eight inches over the last century and the rate of rise, 0.13 inches per year, is double that of the early 1900s. Like the temperature changes caused by climate change, these numbers might seem small, but they have dramatic effects. Many islands and coastal areas are already dealing with the effects of higher sea levels during storms and some, like the Alaskan towns of Shishmaref and Kivalina (pictured), are preparing to relocate because rising sea levels and coastal erosion threaten to bury the towns underwater. These problems will continue to get worse for everyone, not just small Alaskan fishing villages. Depending on the actions we take now, the ocean will rise anywhere between one and six feet by 2100. At that rate, sections of New York City, London, Shanghai, Sydney, and hundreds of other coastal cities and towns will be underwater, affecting tens of millions of people. Sea level rise is not reversible within our lifetimes. For every drop of water that we add into to the sea, we're giving our children and their children more work to do to fix our mistakes.
Images via Relocate-AK.org
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Next to the polar bear, the destruction of coral reefs might be the most well-known side-effect of global warming. Coral reefs act as homes for 25% of all marine species, but, due to pollution, overfishing, and global warming, reefs all over the world are being bleached and destroyed. Coral relies on single-celled organisms called zooxanthellae that live in their tissue to provide them with oxygen, remove waste, and give them their distinctive colors. In response to stresses, like drastic changes in water temperatures, coral will expel the organisms, causing bleaching. They turn pale and are at risk of starvation if more zooxanthellae don't recolonize them. Last year, the news that 90 percent of the Great Barrier Reef had been bleached exploded on social media. As a result of that bleaching, more than 20 percent of the coral died.
Image via XL Catlin Seaview Survey
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Thousands of other animal species have also felt the effects of changing climates. Die-offs, a sudden decrease in a species' population, have become increasingly more common among certain species. Last year, the Yellowstone River was shut down when 4,000 Mountain Whitefish were found dead, floating in the river, with thousands more likely going unfound. The river was unusually shallow and was 20°F warmer than the fish were accustomed to. These drastic changes in their environment made them susceptible to a parasite that quickly spread through their population. Half of the world's population of saiga antelopes died in May after an unusually wet spring caused pathogens in their stomachs to turn lethal. The current epidemic of colony collapse disorder in honey bee hives has also been linked to climate change as well. An increase in hard rainfalls means bees have less time to leave the hive in search of nectar and pollen. In abnormally warm weather, bees need to spend more time bringing water back to the hive to keep it cool, instead of finding flowers. Climate change also affects flower growth and nectar development which in turn affects the colony's sustainability. Birds, marine invertebrates, and fish, in particular, have seen an increase in die-offs since the 1940s but for every species directly affected by climate change, many more will be indirectly affected.
Photo by Sarah Jane Keller/Smithsonian.com
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California's recent drought began in late 2011 as a result of natural climate variability but, according to a study in 2015, it was made 15 to 20 percent worse because of climate change. On average, California is 2°F warmer now than it was in 1895. Warm air holds more water than cool air, drying out the soil. California's air today can hold 8.5 trillion more gallons of water in a year than the cooler air of 1895 could. The drought has been the driest period in California history since records have been kept, draining lakes and rivers (pictured is Lake Oroville that demonstrates just how far the water levels have sunk), killing millions of trees, causing massive wildfires, and destroying habitats for millions of animals. The drought has cost California's economy billions of dollars a year, mainly in the farming industry. Droughts all over the world are only going to get worse as global warming continues unimpeded, and California is a prime example of the toll they'll take.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Desertification is when viable farmland changes into unusable desert. It's the long-term result of droughts, deforestation, and poor agriculture practices, and it's something that we're going to have to address if we want to curb the effects of climate change. Lake Chad measured 26,000 square kilometres in the 1960s, making it one of the largest lakes in the world, but, by the turn of the century, it had shrank to one-tenth of that size. Half of that desertification has been attributed to climate change. Efforts in the years since have restored some of Lake Chad's water, but arid regions around the world will need to take similar efforts to keep droughts from ruining their land.
Image via NASA/Wikipedia
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Catastrophic weather events like hurricanes, extreme rainfall and snowfall, and floods are made more likely because of climate change. Since the 1980s, hurricanes in the north Atlantic Ocean have become more frequent and more intense, possibly caused by an increase in warm ocean waters that give hurricanes their energy. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, the Atlantic Ocean was 3°C warmer than average, intensifying its speed. Climate change has been identified as causing at least 0.6°C of that above-average temperature. Combine more intense hurricanes with higher sea levels and coastal regions become even more at risk for catastrophic events. Extreme rain and snowfall become more likely as warm air holds more water. This also makes the possibility of flooding more common. Extreme weather events like these have seen an increase in the last few decades, particularly in the northeastern United States, and some part of that is the result of global warming. The cost, damage, and death these extreme weather events cause will keep continue as global warming escalates unabated.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images